Shortly after the opening ceremonies for the 2016 All Nations Indian Relay Championship began, gray mist gave way to a fine, slanting rain over the Yellowstone Downs Racetrack at MetraPark.
Yet as the first race began, it seemed as if Myles Murray was riding in a world without rain.
Riding for team Young Money and representing the Blackfeet Nation, Murray took an immediate lead that only grew greater with each incident-free exchange he made onto the back of his three horses despite the weather. Asked what helped him win, Murray answered back as coolly as the night air. "Just a lot of practice," he said.
Riders are used to going in all sorts of conditions, according to Professional Indian Horse Racing Association Director Gary Fellers. After 14 inches of snow fell over Sheridan before a race around this time of year in 2014, the rain at MetraPark could do little to dampen excitement, Fellers said.
The dirt track around the Yellowstone Downs horse track at MetraPark had been packed down earlier in the day in an effort to keep the track dry, Fellers said. As race time grew closer, the hard dirt was opened up to try and create the three to four inches of fluffier surface ideal for horse racing, Fellers said.
Whether it was the conditions or the unpredictable nature of a race that requires riders to mount multiple horses while surrounded by dozens of other horses and then win a race, not all riders were as fortunate as Murray.
Team Pikuni Elite, out of Browning, lost a horse on the final exchange, leaving the animal to finish out the race riderless. The second race of the night, called a Warrior Race, required riders to mount only one horse, but to do so after racing on foot. Somewhere near the final turn, Mountain River's Nolan Werk was separated from his horse and left injured near the racetrack's outer fence line. An ambulance already parked along the track made its way over to Werk, who was eventually placed on a stretcher and driven away.
Though riders take on plenty of risk with each race, there are other benefits beyond the paycheck. Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Nation, said the riders can achieve celebrity-like status with tribal youth. "They're kind of role models," Old Coyote said. Old Coyote said that when his son-in-law and Old Elk Relay rider Ashton Old Elk walks into a room, children sometimes start shouting his name.
Old Coyote said he hopes that Indian relay racing can continue to grow and that he sees little reason why it can't. "The future is bright in Indian relay," Old Coyote said. "We're not gonna run out of riders or horses."
As for Murray, he indicated the future is bright for team Young Money as well. He said when the team first went public with their name, "some people were laughing" at it. "Now everybody knows our name," he said. "I don't hear them laughing now."
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